– Summary –
Director : Carlos Saldanha
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Jessie Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, Will.i.am, Carlos Ponce.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A blue Macaw afraid of flying is taken to Rio de Janiro to mate with the last female of his species, only to be bird-napped by unscrupulous types: a rescue plan by his owner is put into action, but not before a series of misadventures sees our hero fall in love, learn to fly and go hang-gliding around the skies of Brazil’s largest city.
What we think : A golden opportunity is completely wasted in this generic, middling adventure film, your typical “fish out of water” script and scenarios play out exactly as the Hollywood template always does – the hero gets the girl, the bird gets the…. other bird, and the plethora of second-tier comedy relief do their best to elevate a wafer thin script with equally wafer thin humor. Derivative and meandering, this harmless kids adventure will keep tots happy with its slick production design and simplistic characters, but older kids and adults will probably find it a little boring.
Rio is perhaps best described in a single word. Generic. If you strip back the flashy visuals, the dynamic animation style (designed mainly to look cool in 3D, mind you) and the not-quite-A-list-casting, Rio is a join-the-dots example of Hollywood film-making. That’s not to say it’s a bad film, in terms of it’s execution and entertainment value, it’s just that Rio has so many layers of familiarity that it’s hard to see where has-been ends and originality begins. If it begins at all. I’m sure, somewhere, the story by director Carlos Saldanha, Earl Richey Jones and Todd R Jones might have sounded good in theory, but weaving a decent story out of a fairly fanciful idea needs more than flashy visuals and catchy music. The end result of what would have been several years of work ends up feeling for all the world like a dumbed-down version of a better film, a film we have yet to see, because Rio, for all it’s flashy visuals and catchy music, isn’t that much chop. I know, I’m probably not the target audience for this film, but I argue the point that Rio seems too smart for the really young viewers and too dumb for the older ones, flailing about somewhere in the middle and ending up just being ordinary.
Blu (voice of Jessie Eisenberg), a blue macaw from Brazil, is taken back to his homeland (from his cushy existence in snow-bound Minnesota) by his owner Linda (Leslie Mann) in order to mate with the last female of their species, a stunning young macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway). However, just as Blu is beginning to appreciate his new love-match, the pair are stolen from the bird sanctuary by a conniving bird trader, Marcel (Carlos Ponce) and his evil sulfur-crested cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who plan on selling them to exotic bird buyers. Linda, together with local ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), begin the long hunt for Blu, who together with Jewel have escaped imprisonment by Marcel and are on the run to find Linda. Along the way, Blu and Jewel meet Rafael (George Lopez), a toucan who tries to help them with their romance, as well as Pedro (will.i.am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx), a couple of hip-hop loving birds who also want to see a happy reunion.
Rio is your classic romantic comedy adventure film, albeit in animated film, and the kind of thing Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston killed their careers doing too many of. Not one single ounce of creativity, aside from character design, has gone into this film, a film with so many predictable points it’s hard to watch and not make snide comments while doing so. I can usually tell how good a film is by the number of times I roll my eyes in disgust at the lack of respect a filmmaker has for his/her audience, and it’s become apparent to me that Carlos Saldanha has none whatsoever. I lost count of how many eye-rolls this film dragged out of me. Saldanha is best known as the co-director of mega-hit Ice Age, minor hit Robots, and the lead director on both Ice Age sequels, prior to ripping Rio apart in this film. Ice Age aside, none of the film he’s been involved with have been game-changers or anything resembling Pixar-like monsters. Robots suffered from some kind of affliction which made it virtually impossible to like any of the characters, and Ice Age 2 was beset with so many character-development related issues it wasn’t funny. Rio has very much endured the same fate as Ice Age 2. The script is so bland, the characters so uninspired (even Nigel, the cockatoo, seems a more subdued version of any number of the creatures we saw in The Legends Of The Guardians: The Owls Of Ga’Hoole) and the narrative so predictable, Rio merely stumbles towards it’s completion instead of taking any kind of risks to break into a sprint.
Getting Jessie Eisenberg to voice your central, klutzy, flightless character could either be a stroke of mad genius, or a fools errand. Personally, I think his work here is average at best, with Eisenberg’s stammering mannerisms and pop-culture sensitive vibe betraying any genuine heart this bird might have. Some might find his voice endearing, but in this it drives me crazy. Anne Hathaway is actually pretty good as Jewel, with about the only well defined character in the film, while Leslie Mann seems miscast as the Generic Human character, whose similarity to Bee Movie’s Vanessa in both tone and appearance was distracting. Jemaine Clement did a good job as Nigel, his voice equally malevolent and syrupy smooth, the kind of velvet knife through your heart a films villain needs – pity the character is so one-dimensional. Jamie Foxx is unrecognizable as Nico, one half of Rio’s comedy pairing, and although both he and will.i.am do a pretty good job of throwing in a few laughs, there’s not enough laughs, and not enough good laughs, to keep me smiling. George Lopez seems content to be a half-mix of The Little Mermaid’s Sebastian and Robin Williams’ Lovelace from Happy Feet, with his portrayal of Rafael, the love-enthused toucan who has more good advice than an Agony Aunt column.
If eye-candy is all you’re after, then Rio is definitely a film to see in high definition. Set in Rio de Janiro, the color palette of this film is astonishingly sweet to look at, although the sheer orgiastic nature of the editing and shots seems a little… well, overkill. I know, I know, that’s hard to admit to in an animated film, where every pixel of every frame is accounted for years in advance, but the films bravura design and execution will leave even the most hard-to-please videophile wondering what the hell they’ve been smashed in the eyes with. It’s like a rainbow got poured into a film canister and this is how it developed. Rio looks great, even if the story isn’t equal to the task. The animation, as we’ve come to expect in this post Toy Story era world of ever-increasingly-amazing technology, is superb. One of the few things I was impressed with, aside from the animation itself, was John Powell’s excellent score – even if the abundance of Brazilian maraca music did drive me a little nutty (Blu himself even makes a remark on this at one point) – the orchestral score was particularly excellent. Kudos to Mr Powell. But all the technical proficiency in the world can’t enhance such a bland story beset with equally bland characters. If this film was a flavor of ice-cream, it would be vanilla. Rio doesn’t stand out as a particularly inspired story, nor does it feel very… well… inspirational, and even for the audience I think they were aiming for, they missed the mark somewhat.
Rio is more Shark Tale than Up or Finding Nemo. The “fish out of water” cliche, mixed with some groan-inducing romantic puffery and a fairly high octane action quotient (even if said action isn’t that exciting) make Rio a film you’ll feel like you’ve seen before, in several other films. It’s a film which feels like it was made by committee – even if it wasn’t, it feels like it was, and that’s a hard thing to overcome. The cynic in me might suggest that this was a film made purely to sell 3D television sets (and it will, because the 3D “kapow” factor this film has is enormous – almost distractingly so) and toys at McDonalds. Its rote-scripting and simplistic, meandering plot-line, together with insipid and uninspiring character who dole out platitudes of vacant virtuosity, and a general feeling of “been there, done that many, many times” is overwhelming to what could have been a charming little animated feature. Rio isn’t a bad film, hell, it’s eminently watchable – the problem is exactly what kind of film you’re expecting: the script isn’t a fine balance of comedy or romance, or even action and romance, cramming every kind of counter-culture reference and in-joke into the screenplay and hoping something works with the audience is a scatter-shot method of film-making. And a method, I hate to say it, that has completely neutered any power or credibility Rio might have had.